*NEW* THE MARTIAN REVIEW *NEW*

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BRING HIM AN OSCAR.

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. BUT Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meagre supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

A return to form from Scott and a stellar performance from Matt Damon makes this space flick one to watch.

For me, Scott’s films of late have not been up to much. They were certainly big, bold and beautifully shot pieces of work. BUT they were either ridiculously over complicated messes (The Counselor) or drawn out affairs (Prometheus).

Luckily, this latest offering had the perfect balance. Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography was fantastic. I didn’t think anyone could make a barren desert planet look so beautiful and deadly with the change of a lens. Superb.

The opening didn’t mess about. It set everybody up and got straight to it. It was tense, frantic and gripping as Watney is left for dead after getting caught up in a violent storm.

I know what you’re thinking. Matt Damon playing a stranded astronaut trying to sustain food and water on a barren planet. NO, it’s not the side story to Interstellar. If anything, it was Cast Away in Space. All that was missing was a volleyball named Wilson.

When telling the story of one man’s survival, it’s crucial that you have the right actor or the movie is ruined. I couldn’t think of anyone better than Matt Damon. He was charismatic and carried the film when it seemed to lull. Every time we went back to NASA, I wanted to see more of Watney.

It was interesting and engaging. I was hooked as we watched Watney battle to survive the next FOUR years from monotonous disco music . . . As well as his tempestuous planetary prison. His video logs were a good touch. Breaking the fourth wall as he explained what he was doing to stay alive. As well as keeping his sanity.

The science behind the crop planting and the water was very clever. You could almost believe that it could happen and be dealt with.

The only problem was that despite Damon’s excellent performance, some of the supporting characters fell into the background and didn’t really make a mark. Most notably in Watney’s crew with Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan.

Jessica Chastain nailed every screen opportunity she got. If anything I wanted to see more of her. BUT this wasn’t her story. Michael Pena did his best to offer comic relief and managed to make a memorable impression by the closing minutes.

Donald Glover, or should I say Childish Gambino, was a surprise supporting character. He seems to have a dab hand at this acting lark as the socially awkward super genius Rich Purnell. Kristen Wiig played the role of the PR advisor well and proved she can do serious acting. A nice change.

Jeff Daniels was a piece of work as NASA director Teddy Sanders. His sparring with Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor made for heated viewing. One primarily looking at the costs, the others concerned with the man on Mars.

The heavy theorizing and lab debates in NASA and the world did go on in parts for me and took the story away from Watney. And as Purnell tried to explain his rescue plan using two pens, I feared Armageddon story telling creeping out of the woodwork. It was only by the 1 hour 45 minute marker that I felt a little fidgety.

BUT the finale was just as enthralling and nail biting. If anything, it was everything that I wanted from Gravity. A film that failed to impress.

I was rooting for Watney through the highs and lows. This made me want to check out the bestselling novel. A must see and dare I say it.

4/5

P.S. I couldn’t fight it. I had to . . .

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MAGIC MIKE XXL REVIEW

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Too many problems but somehow (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, you could say it was . . . Alright, alright, alright.

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Three years after Mike (Channing Tatum) bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game, he and the remaining Kings of Tampa hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last blow-out performance.

I never expected to enjoy a film about male strippers and I didn’t. The first time. I finally mustered the strength to see Magic Mike a week ago. I didn’t expect to be impressed by the gyrating movements of Tatum’s torso but I was hoping after all the hype for something a little more.

It was boring. Reprieved by McConaughey’s Dallas and some entertaining song and dance numbers. Everything else was far too tame, corny and drawn out.

BUT of course, I’m a movie masochist. My vow to try and review as many films as possible biting me on the backside. So a second helping of stripping. Greeaaaattt.

However, I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I expected. A vast improvement on its predecessor. I laughed a lot more (For the right reasons) and didn’t find myself half as bored. BUT it doesn’t get off the hook that easily.

Credit where it’s due. The film got straight to business as we follow Mike struggling to make ends meat. A quick phone call. A few passing comments explaining the absence of three characters. Bye Bye, Dallas, The Kid and Cody Horn’s Brooke. And we were good to go.

To be honest, Horn’s absence was a relief. I found her acting terrible and she lacked any real chemistry with Tatum. The endless staring and mumbling did my head in. McConaughey was a missed presence but it did give Joe Manganiello a chance to step up. It was a shame that Pettyfer didn’t return but rumours suggested that he and Tatum didn’t get on during the filming of the first one.

For those who haven’t seen Magic Mike (How can I say such a thing?), it isn’t crucial for the sequel. There are just little bits that might skim over your head but somehow I don’t think this is the sort of film where plot is imperative.

Within 15 minutes, the gang were all back together! So it made the finale of MM a little pointless really. But there are no guarantees for success in life. Plus Hollywood really wanted a sequel. For the first half hour or so, it zipped along. The camaraderie and banter (That appealed to me the first time round) was very much on fine form.

Tatum can dance. Unfortunately Step Up hasn’t been top priority on my movie list. What? Anyway, he delivered the charisma yet again and you could tell he was having fun doing it. His reaction when his trade mark stripper song Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ came on the garage radio said it all. That inevitable dance imminent as soon as the beat dropped. It was like something out of Flashdance.

Tatum had good chemistry with the lovely Amber Heard but her character was a little weak. I feared a retread of the Horn disaster with the pair muttering and mumbling away. However, despite their improv going on for too long, they still delivered enough charm to keep it watchable. Just.

Matt Bomer’s character Ken was a bit shady to start with. Jealous of Mike’s return. I was hoping for some of that heated tension that Dallas and Mike shared in the closing minutes of MM. Plus let’s not forget that Ken wasn’t that squeaky clean.

But it was resolved far too quickly. A quick slap with some wood. Hang on, let me rephrase that. A testosterone/drug/drink-fuelled stand off in a beach with a log of wood and a jab in the gut and the pair were all smiles. Boy, Bomer can sing though.

Jada-Pinkett Smith may be rocking it at 44. Even if she might have had work done. BUT I found her character Rome very annoying. Every scene involving her went on far too long. It was obvious within 30 seconds that Mike and Rome used to work together. I didn’t need 30 minutes of mindless chatter in her strip club with a shirtless Childish Gambino doing some long winded rap that wasn’t that good.

I can’t believe I’m writing this but the strip dance offs in Rome’s club were the only redeeming moments. Childish Gambino fared better when he just sang.

The dance routines were actually well choreographed and quite entertaining as the gang decide to jazz up their stale material. The ladies will definitely love them. Manganiello’s set pieces had me shaking my head. And not just out of jealousy for his toned bod. His attempt to woo an attendant at a gas station was ridiculous but hilarious.

Kevin Nash (Kevin Nash? WWE Kevin Nash?) can’t dance to save his life but at 6 foot odd, the 50 something former pro wrestler gave it a good old go. The final 20 minutes was cheesy but fun enough. I got a smile. I know the ladies certainly were. The gang must have had a good laugh while filming this.

I couldn’t believe the cameos that popped up in this. Elizabeth Banks? Andie MacDowell as a bitterly divorced MILF?

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It’s flawed beyond belief and that’s not coming from a jealous heterosexual but it was a vast improvement from the original and wasn’t all bad. Don’t expect too much in terms of character development and plot but I’m sure that the audience, it’s aiming at will not care one little bit.

2.5/5